Pitchfork: 6.2 Rolling Stone: 4/5 Metacritic: 75 Spin: 3/5
Released: May 2010
The Sweet Part of the City
Soft in the Center
The Weekenders [LISTEN]
We Can Get Together
Our Whole Lives
A Slight Discomfort
I wanted to wait on giving my opinion on The Hold Steady’s latest effort because I wanted to love it and I was hoping the love would grow with time. While I have come to enjoy Heaven is Whenever, I’ve also come to the realization that it doesn’t live up to the expectations I had and will continue to bestow upon each Hold Steady release.
“The Sweet Part of the City” is, on first listen, perhaps the most disappointing opening track of any of The Hold Steady’s albums. It may have been better served towards the end or middle, as it is definitely a good song and just as nostalgic as the rest of their catalog, but doesn’t get your blood flowing the way every other opener has. “Soft in the Center” leans more to the expected and loved Hold Steady sound we’re all used to until the chorus. “You can’t get every girl/ You get the ones you love the best/ You won’t get every girl/ You love the ones you get the best”. Thankfully, Tad Kubler saves the song with his guitar solo.
“The Weekenders” is supposedly the sequel to a track from my favorite Hold Steady album, Boys and Girls in America’s “Chips Ahoy”. Certainly one of the stronger tracks on Heaven is Whenever, and once again ignoring the chorus, it includes some of Craig Finn’s best lyrics, including one of my favorites: “She said the theme of this party’s the industrial age/ And you came in dressed like a train wreck”.
I actually really enjoy the slower songs including “We Can Get Together” and the closer, “A Slight Discomfort”. The synth-y background vocals of the former are a bit corny, but it gives us some of the best lyrics on the album. The latter may not be as good as other Hold Steady album closers, and by other I mean all of them, except maybe “Southtown Girls”, but I kinda liked the epic sound of the drums and the string fanfare to end the record.
Other songs of note: “Hurricane J” sounds a lot like “Stacy’s Mom”, though the end is a highlight. “Barely Breathing” is one of the best songs, but the end is a lowlight. “Our Whole Lives” sounds like a classic Hold Steady tune, just not good enough to be called a classic. Same goes for “Rock Problems” and “The Smidge”. Well, I think that covers the whole album.
Now I remember why I didn’t want to write about Heaven is Whenever. There just isn’t a whole lot to say. Its a decent album but I pray this isn’t the beginning of the end of the studio greatness of one of my favorite bands, The Hold Steady. I hope Finn and company remember how a resurrection really feels on their next attempt.